Tag Archives: 1999

Episode Recap: The Son of Ghoul Show “Mr. Wise Guy” (March 6, 1999)

With Son of Ghoul’s big 31st anniversary show this weekend, and indeed, his actual 31st anniversary today right now yo, what say we take a look back at a vintage episode? I always like doing these. (My wi-fi currently hates me and wants me dead, so if I blaze through this, particularly in the second-half, that’s why.)

31 years is unbelievable for any television personality, but especially so when it’s the endangered-species known as “horror host.” Ironically, 31 almost seems a little, I don’t know, anti-climatic, I guess, after the massive hype that surrounded his big 30th last year. I certainly covered it, and was even present when SOG was fittingly honored at Monsterfestmania.

I thought of a couple different topics to post in honor of his 31st continuous year on Northeast Ohio television. I could’ve covered the earliest episode I taped (The Vampire Bat, in 1997), or his 12th anniversary show, or even the episode featuring the first piece of mail I ever sent in to him. I even briefly considered an article detailing a lot of the SOG memorabilia I’ve amassed over the years. I decided against each one of those, however, for a variety of reasons: I’ll save my earliest taped episode for the 20th anniversary of the broadcast this fall, I didn’t feel like covering Frankenstein’s Daughter during his 12th anniversary, and I’m not ready to detail my cringe worthy (yet nostalgic) first letter to him. As for an article focused on SOG memorabilia, I just couldn’t muster up the moxy to drag all that stuff out for a picture-taking session.

Nope, I decided on our subject today for one very simple reason: I just plain like the movie, 1942’s Mr. Wise Guy. Heck, I just plain like the episode in general, and to me that speaks more about my Son of Ghoul fandom than any ‘special’ occurrence I could dig up. After all, this was how the show usually was (is) to me each weekend: A fun, kick-back-and-chill movie showcase.

So, join me now as I detail The Son of Ghoul Show, as aired on WAOH TV-29 in Akron and WAX TV-35 in Cleveland (“The Cat”) and taped by yours truly waaaay back on March 6, 1999…

(Also, I’ve been on a real kick for The Cat lately, even more so than usual. This comes from that late-90s sweet-spot of the channel, so I’m happy with the choice. And, if that kick keeps up, I may dig something else out from the station to cover. You keep pushing me and I just might, pal.)

I vividly recall this being a surprise episode. Y’see, SOG was on twice-a-week at that point: 8-10 PM, Fridays and Saturdays, same episode. This was handy, because you could sample on Friday, and tape-as-needed on Saturday. But, for whatever reason, he was only on Saturday that week, a fact he briefly mentions in his intro (above).

I think (think) he was preempted totally the night before due to some women’s college basketball tournament The Cat was broadcasting/simulcasting/whatevercasting. So because he was only on Saturday that week, I couldn’t risk missing a must-have episode, especially with no knowledge of what the movie would be. Because said basketball tournament was concluding that Saturday, there was no telling when SOG’s show would actually begin; I had to start the VCR recording waaaaay ahead of time, which was why I wound up with like an hour of that stupid basketball game on the tape before the episode started.

This obsessiveness proved fortuitous. That night, we were at my aunt’s house for some party I was quite probably miserable at, and I flipped to The Cat to see what episode I was capturing. When it finally started and Mr. Wise Guy was revealed, I was pleased as punch. SOG had ran this film, I don’t know, a year or so prior, and I had regretted not capturing it then. I actually liked the movie!

And I wasn’t the only one; SOG himself mentions that he likes it as well during his intro. How often did (does) that happen?!

The reason I initially liked this film so much largely had to do with what it represented: A trip back to a more innocent time in cinema. This is pure, early-1940s matinee entertainment. It’s an East Side Kids (you know, the Bowery Boys, except not) film, so there’s some light hooliganism about, but even with that, an escaped convict, a murder, a death-row sentence, and a real-life war going on, it’s all so light and breezy that it never seems too heavy. I’m hesitant to ascribe the term “innocence” to a film that contains all that, but like I said, this is matinee entertainment; it’s not exactly a weighty, socially-conscious drama.

The idea of an East Side Kids film showing up on a horror hosted program may seem odd, but as SOG states during his intro, Ghoulardi himself used to run these (and fittingly, on Saturdays!). If these were good enough for Ghoulardi, they should be good enough for any other host, too. And somehow, to me they seem to ‘fit’ just fine. Maybe that’s because I grew up with SOG showing them occasionally (still does, in fact), but looked at objectively, they still work. It’s not like a b-western, which unless it shared some horror influence or other odd quirk (Terror of Tiny Town, anyone?), just wouldn’t seem to fit. Look, I can’t really adequately explain why it works so well, it just does.

And, in a trend that continues to this day, SOG doesn’t tamper with these kinds of films; no drop-ins, no sound effects. Just the movie straight. Evidently he has some real appreciation for these flicks, and we’re all the better for it. Even when missing those elements so well-known to SOG fans, it flows perfectly.

The title of the film comes from a moniker given to (and approved by) Leo Gorcey’s character “Muggs” McGinnis (first name: Ethelbert), who is deemed so several times throughout the picture.

The simple synopsis of the plot: The East Side Kids are sent to reform school. There’s a bit more to it than that, though. Unjustly accused of stealing a truck (a truck that, unbeknownst to them, houses an escaped convict), they’re sent to a reformatory run by a kind warden, a cruel guard, and a couple of troublesome inmates that are secretly in cahoots with aforementioned cruel guard. Also on the docket: Bill Collins, older brother of cast member Bobby Jordan’s Danny Collins, is accused of murder and sentenced to death row. Eventually these plotlines unbelievably though perhaps predictably, collide. And since this is from 1942, it all ends on a relatively happy note. ‘Cept for the dude who died, anyway.

Needless to say, much of this is played for laughs. Even while incarcerated, Gorcey’s gang never seems too concerned with their situation. Even as Danny frets over his brother’s predicament back in the real world, the other guys just sort of blow it off – which admittedly does play out a little strange. I can’t imagine that being realistic even back in ’42.

Still, as a whole, the movie is entertaining. Indeed, I wasn’t sure if I’d still get a kick out of it when I sat down to convert my VHS to DVD for this review, but it greatly held my attention throughout. I was even genuinely amused by certain moments, which can’t always be said of semi-comedies of this vintage.

Look, the movie is in the public domain, so don’t just take my word for it; check it out for yourself. Since SOG didn’t add any sound effects, you’ll see it (almost) as it aired here!

(Fun Fact: Some years ago at a thrift store, I stumbled upon a 3-VHS boxset of East Side Kids films. Included were both of their Bela Lugosi collaborations, Spooks Run Wild and Ghosts on the Loose, as well as the title that really spurred the eventual purchase: Mr. Wise Guy. I never watched any of them, don’t think I even played any of the tapes, and subsequently the set became buried in my mound of crap videos. It should still be around here, somewhere, which is good, because unknown to me at the time was that the company who put it out, Passport Productions, was spawned from the ashes of Amvest Video, who we’ve seen here before. Cool winnins!)

Unfortunately, the movie isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t have much to do with plot, but rather stereotypes that were prevalent at the time. Ernest Morrison, often known as “Sunshine Sammy,” is the victim of some unfortunate racial jokes, as his character “Scruno” is the outlet for some now-wildly-inappropriate stereotyping. Look, I don’t claim to be a super-PC-advocate, but man, even I was uncomfortable with some of the gags at his expense.

That said, I am an advocate of not editing things of this nature to reflect current social attitudes. Yes, some of the jokes have aged terribly, but they reflect the time in which the film was made; you can’t rewrite history, only learn from it. And besides, the jokes are incredibly dated, but never really mean-spirited, if that counts for anything.

And with all that said, we now come to the rest of the show…

The first skit proper is actually an old bit from the WOAC TV-67 days, and I love it because it perfectly sums up SOG’s sense of humor, which very often syncs up with mine.

In a parody of the whole “carrying the Olympic torch” thing, here SOG dutifully marches with a plunger triumphantly raised, only to enter the studio bathroom and begin plunging! That’s all there is to it, and it’s great!

Truth be told, SOG doesn’t feature heavily heavily into this episode. I mean, he does, he shows up after each commercial-break, but it’s not new bit after new bit after new bit. His hosting duties, while prominent, maybe aren’t quite as prominent as they usually were, and I think that has much to do with this spot right here.

In a segment that takes up a healthy chunk of running time, SOG and guest Carl Thompson speak extensively on the Frightvision convention, coming later that month. Yes, Frightivision, the SOG-hosted horror convention; we’ve talked about it before! Here, SOG and Thompson thoroughly go over the list of guests and events coming to the show, and it goes on for around 8 minutes, which is pretty much a lifetime in horror-show-time.

That’s not a complaint on my part, though; I could not be happier this segment is present! I talked more extensively on the convention in the piece I just linked to (another SOG episode, Plan 9 From Outer Space, which aired later that same month), but Frightvision was a BIG deal. It was also my very first horror convention of any kind. Long story short: I positively loved it. I got to meet Ben “Gill Man” Chapman, Mark “Lost in Space Guy” Goddard, SOG’s own Fidge (who was great), saw Tom Savini (but didn’t meet him until the following year), and came home with some very cool loot (including a vintage SOG TV-67 promo card, which I still have to this day). All of the fanaticism that manifests itself in me for each and every Ghoulardifest began at the very first Frightvision, and for that I hold the fondest of memories.

So yes, seeing the segment that so aptly demonstrates the swirling hype surrounding Frightvision in the weeks leading up to it, that’s the sort of thing that can take me directly back in time. And movie aside, to me this is the defining moment of this particular episode.

An email segment. More (!) information on Frightvision is presented, and a spider glove that apparently belonged to Fidge is shown. Unless y’all want me to go email by email, there’s not much more I can say about it.

I would love to show the old school, wildly obsolete SOG email address, back when having an email address was still semi-innovative, but in the interest of avoiding confusion, I’ll refrain.

In the second mail segment, the reading of letters devolves into a long, drawn out explosion of fake fart noises, which has SOG and his crew dying with laughter. SOG: “Can you tell we’re so easily amused here?” Like the toilet torch earlier in the show, it’s a juvenile, and therefore riotous, moment. This is the stuff that helped cement my sense of humor, gang. You want someone to blame? Blame SOG.

Because my wi-fi is in a seemingly-perpetual state of precariousness, there were two other bits amidst all this insanity that I’m choosing to skip. One, a “Captain Kanga-Ghoul,” and the other, an on-location interview at a liquor store that happened to be one of Frightvision’s sponsors, were fun, sorta-filler bits, but frankly, I don’t have all that much to say about them. Also, I’d like to punch my wi-fi in the face.

Also, here is the point where I’d usually look at interesting (or so I think) commercials that aired during an original broadcast. I’m going to skip that feature this time around. Why? Because basically all of the ones I would have chosen were already covered in that previously-linked Plan 9 From Outer Space SOG episode recap. And the other, a goofy homegrown promo for a showing of Reefer Madness, was briefly looked at in the The Cat article I linked to way at the start of this post. I love it when I do my own work for me!

It all works out though, because I can end this article in accordance with the way this show itself ends: As the outro opens, SOG is seen jokingly patting his phony beard back into place, along with a “We’re not done yet!”

But, it’s what he says right after that that sums up not only the conclusion to this particular episode, but also the continuing 31 year odyssey his show has been on: “They say you’re not done till the show’s over! Or until you’re out of toilet paper; then you’re done!” I think I can speak on the behalf of SOG’s many fans when I say I hope SOG never runs out of toilet paper.

Boy, that sounded so much more philosophical in my head.

Happy 31st anniversary, Son of Ghoul!

(PS – I’d be remiss if I didn’t link to my legendary, groundbreaking, earth-shattering, trendsetting interview with the man himself!)

(PPS – They may not have been able to repeat this year, but man, I still love the Cleveland Cavaliers. I’ll stick with you guys win or lose! Just thought I should mention that somewhere, since the loss is naturally still on the mind of so many Northeast Ohioans right now.)

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WAOH TV-29/WAX TV-35’s Annual Halloween Broadcast Of The Original Night Of The Living Dead (1999)

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It’s Halloween! It’s Halloween!!! Happy Halloween everybody!

I love this time of year, and I love this holiday! There are great movies on the air, there’s a great feeling in the air! Baby, I loves it!

Despite my mounds of horror-related crap, I initally had a tough time deciding what exactly to write about for the first Halloween post of my silly little blog. What I first had planned was a no go, for no other reason than I just couldn’t think of much to say. And that was for a 30-second commercial! So, at the proverbial last minute (well, two days ago), I decided to write about the original 1968 Night Of The Living Dead. Because Heaven knows what the internet needs right now is article # 5,637,242 on the movie.

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Seriously, has there ever been a more written about movie than the original Night Of The Living Dead? It’s legendary (not to mention public domain) status has ensured that just about everyone has had their say on the movie by now. BUT, the Night Of The Living Dead I’m talking about isn’t just any old version of the move. No, this is one of The Cat’s (WAOH TV-29 in Akron and WAX TV-35 in Cleveland) annual Halloween airings of the film! This was a staple of the station in the late-90’s, and probably up through the 2000’s, too. Unlike other movies on the network (which were syndicated via America One, content from which WAOH regularly carried), The Cat had it’s own print of the film, and they ran it each and every Halloween as their 8 PM movie.

Of course, there are no station I.D.’s during the movie, and most of the commercials were either ones I’ve talked about before or not interesting enough to talk about now, so I can’t prove this is absolutely a genuine WAOH/WAX airing, but I’m nothing if not honest, so let me assure you that it indeed is. Not that anyone besides me really cares one way or the other, but just thought I’d throw that out there. Also, while I’m reasonably sure this is a 1999 airing, it could also conceivably be a 2000 airing; the commercials were of no help whatsoever in determining the exact year, but again, no one besides me really cares. But, I gotta be straight with you, my loyal reader(s).

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Night Of The Living Dead has been public domain forever (basically since it was released), so local stations running it is nothing out of the ordinary. But, one thing I always loved about The Cat’s annual broadcast of the film was that while it was a reasonably sharp print (although my screenshots, taken from my DVD conversion of a now 14 year old VHS copy that was recorded in SLP mode from a local independent station, may not always accurately reflect that), it was also very dark, dusty, dirty and scratchy. Now, most people would want their Night Of The Living Dead to be as clear and clean as possible. Not me, and I’ll tell you why: in regards to this movie, the more worn-out a print is, the more nightmarish the film becomes. It’s already black & white and claustrophobic, and the dirt and scratches only add to the ‘scary’ vibe the film naturally has, in my opinion. it’s almost like looking through a dirty window and seeing something that you shouldn’t.

Honestly, I feel the same way about the 1922 Nosferatu: clean it up as much as you want, add tints, whatever, but leaving it black & white and worn-out gives the film a nightmarish quality that, I feel, no amount of restoration can replicate. Oh, I understand why these films need to be preserved in the finest quality possible, I’m not arguing that at all. Restore ’em, get ’em out there on DVD and/or Blu-Ray, let the people see the flick the way it was meant to be seen. There was an artistic vision that can and often does become obscured under the grime from years of runs through the projector. So yeah, I’ve got no problem with each new, ostensibly better release of Night Of The Living Dead (or Nosferatu). I’m not even sure what I’m really proposing here. What, the latest Blu-Ray is gonna tout “Old & unrestored! Looks like it was dragged around the parking lot 6 or 7 times!” or some such tagline? Alls I’m sayin’ is that fried old Night Of The Living Dead effects me in a way the cleanest print ever couldn’t. I know that won’t be a popular opinion. In fact, I may be the only one that holds it, but I’m fine with that. Yeah, I’m weird (but isn’t Halloween for weirdos?).

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The Cat’s annual broadcast of Night Of The Living Dead wasn’t what introduced me to the film, though. I think I first saw the annual Halloween airing in 1998, but it was a year earlier that I stumbled upon Son Of Ghoul’s showing of the flick. I had seen neither it nor Son Of Ghoul in any real capacity prior, but I was instantly hooked on both. Not only did I immediately become a SOG fan, but I absolutely loved the movie. Having no experience with the show, it took me a minute to realize they were dropping sound effects and whatnot into the movie, and while I found them funny, they didn’t distract from the film, which I quickly became hooked on.

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Upon that viewing, Night Of The Living Dead struck me in a way few, if any, other horror or sci-fi movies had before. It genuinely scared me. Granted, I was 11 years old, and I wasn’t exactly hiding under the covers; it was a good kind of scared, a chilling “can’t stop watching” movie that left a lasting impression on me. It instantly became a favorite film of mine, and beyond that, introduced me to a whole new world of horror movies. This was something more intense, more genuinely frightening than I had ever experienced before. It was great.

(Just like WAOH/WAX used to do, Son of Ghoul still plays Night Of The Living Dead every year for Halloween, including this past weekend.)

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Let me reiterate that that introduction wasn’t this airing, but it’s close, at least as far as evoking personal memories of that era, when I was constantly discovering new old movies. From Night Of The Living Dead, I checked out the other films in George A. Romero’s “Dead” series (at least as many as had been released at that point), other zombie movies, any new-to-me horror or sci-fi movie I could get, even branching out into Italian and Spanish (and beyond) flicks. For awhile, I would have considered the 1978 sequel Dawn Of The Dead the best and my favorite, but over time, I’ve really reverted back to preferring the original; I’ve grown to appreciate the claustrophobic, increasingly intense atmosphere (it all starts out normal enough, and then all hell proceeds to break loose) and black & white cinematography more and more over the years. Not that Dawn is bad in any way, but Night just appeals to me more nowadays.

I should also note that this original Night Of The Living Dead is really the only ‘brutal’ horror film I still retain love for. Not that it’s really as “extreme” as some modern horror films are, of course (though it’s still a very effective film). After a good part of my teen years, when I had “the more gore, the better!” mentality, I eventually developed an aversion to overtly graphic horror or sci-fi movies; anything that realistically depicts people being murdered and such (especially when it’s just for the hell of it), I really don’t care for. Nowadays, I generally prefer the Universal or poverty row films of the 1930’s & 1940’s, and the cheapies of the 1950’s & 1960’s (and even into the 1970’s). I mean, no one in their right mind would ever take The Creeping Terror seriously. Also, you couldn’t pay me to watch some of the Eurotrash I watched back then, today. Night Of The Living Dead, though, still works for me because, yeah, it’s scary, people die horrible deaths, but there’s an underlying air of, I don’t know, something deeper, I guess? George A. Romero wasn’t just feeding people to zombies for the hell of it, is what I’m saying. Rather than repelling me, Night Of The Living Dead hooks me in the same way it did when I was 11 years old and watching it on Son Of Ghoul.

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For those that haven’t seen it (yeah, all four of you), I suppose now is as good a time as any to give a bit of a synopsis, though it should be clear by now that this isn’t really that kind of film review. Night Of The Living Dead is a 1968 film by George A. Romero, the first of what would eventually become a series of “Living Dead” films (as well as the first of many, many knock-offs). The plot, in a nutshell, involves corpses that suddenly spring back to life with a craving for the flesh of the living. Those bitten by said corpses are then destined to become flesh-eating zombies themselves. The normative way of killing a zombie is by setting it on fire or destroying the brain via shooting, bashing, and so on.

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So, it ends up that seven people become stranded in an isolated farmhouse, a farmhouse becoming increasingly surrounded by more and more zombies. The inital idea is to board up the windows and wait for help, but it eventually comes to be decided that they need to get out and find help themselves. I really don’t want to risk spoiling any of the film, because watching it fresh with no idea what’s coming next is an amazing experience. I will say that the ending, which I don’t dare reveal for those that may not have seen it (again, a number that is quite possibly in the single digits), absolutely knocked me out when I first saw it. I mean, it just blew me away.

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Night Of The Living Dead is just about the easiest film in the world to see. Since it’s public domain, you can find it for free and legal download on the internet, or for those less technologically experienced, it can be found on a huge number of DVDs, VHS tapes, and it’s even on Blu-Ray now. Of course, print quality varies from version to version, and as a rule of thumb, the more you pay, the more namebrand the manufacturer, and the better it’ll look. Not always, but often. At least, that’s how it usually played out back in the VHS days.

Which brings me back to this WAOH/WAX airing from 1999, which this article is ostensibly about. It’s that copy that I recorded way back then that means the most to me. Not because I didn’t have ‘official’ copies (I got a cheapo $4 VHS copy from Best Buy relatively soon after my initial viewing in ’97), but because it really does recall my memories of growing up watching The Cat, when I was almost constantly discovering (and taping!) something new and cool. Nowadays, Night Of The Living Dead may no longer be in my top 10 favorite films ever list, but it’s almost certainly in my top 10 horror films list. All of the countless rip-offs, homages, and whatnot that have been released in the years since, and yet, few (none?) can touch the original; the aforementioned Dawn of The Dead, in my opinion, comes closest.

At any rate, Night Of The Living Dead is one of the definitive Halloween movies, one that should be watched if you haven’t seen it, or watched again if you have. I don’t know if I’ll replicate the ’99 WAOH broadcast that this recording comes from, but I’m happy knowing that I can, even if the channel itself isn’t the same nowadays.

Have a great Halloween, everybody!

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